By Ruth Ellen Gruber
The Oklahoma-born, Egyptian-American country singer Kareem Salama is on a tour of the Middle East, as a goodwill ambassador sponsored by the U.S. State Department. I've posted on Salama in the past -- technically, his story should not be part of this blog, as he is an American, and from Ponca City to boot, not a "foreigner" picking up and transforming country music or the Wild West myth.
Still, as I've noted, the interaction of his immigrant parents with the Wild West dream, and how Kareem interacted with that, resonates with the experience that I've witnessed among fans in Europe. And the interest he triggers as a Muslim (albeit an Oklahoman) who sings country music continues to make waves.
Salama speaks with an Oklahoma twang and has been interviewed on Fox, Sky News and many other media outlets. He was invited to the White House by President Obama, and his song "A Land Called Paradise" was used in a video that shows American Muslims as normal Americans -- as does the video of his latest song, "Generous Peace," posted above. (His name means Generous Peace in Arabic, and this has become part of Salama's branding.)
CNN reports that his Middle East tour will take him from Cairo to Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem and Jordan:
The 32-year-old singer-songwriter has packed up his country-western act for a stint in the Middle East this month as he serves as an ambassador of sorts: an ambassador of Americana, thanks to a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour aimed at raising cultural awareness in the region.
Salama is an ideal messenger.
Born in Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Egyptian immigrants, Salama has invented a genre of music by blending his family's roots with his country of birth. His songs incorporate the Arabic poetry of a medieval Muslim theologian with the iconic twang of American country music.
Country-eastern, some might call it.
"The messages I try to focus on -- and I think it's sort of the focus of country music generally -- is just values: family values, love, kindness, things like that," Salama said after a recent performance in Cairo, one of the first stops on the monthlong seven-country tour.
And while he may resemble his audience in appearance, his Southern-accent-infused Arabic -- admittedly rusty -- draws giggles from the crowd.
"Is that proper? Is that right?" he asked the audience after attempting an Arabic thank-you.Read full article
The stories European performers tell me resonate a lot with what Kareem says in the biographical essay on his web site, particularly the way he talks about his immigrant parents and their embrace of their new culture and how they immersed him in it, too.
Oklahoma is a hybrid of Southern, Western and Native American culture and thanks to my mother’s insatiable desire to learn and experience new things she made sure that I and everyone in my family was immersed in all of it.
As a child, I went to Indian Tribal Powwows, heard country music artists at the county fair and watched my favorite cowboys at the rodeo every year. My mother would take us to nearby Western Arkansas just to watch an outdoor play in an amphitheater. My parents would take us to Branson, Missouri in the summertime where we’d watch live shows, listen to bluegrass music and make wax candles like it was done in the old times. They even took us to Opryland and the famous Grand Old Opry in Tennessee.